The Oxford Dictionary defines culture shock as disorientation
experienced when suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture or way of life
. Culture shock can be characterised by periods of frustration, adjustment, and even depression. Nearly everyone, regardless of maturity, disposition, previous experience abroad, or knowledge of the country in which they will be living, experiences some degree of culture shock when initially moving to a new country. Rather like the grieving process, there are stages that we go through…

Step 1: The Honeymoon Stage

When you first arrive in a new culture, differences are intriguing and you may feel excited, stimulated and curious. Like any new experience, there’s a feeling of euphoria when you first arrive and you’re in awe of the differences you see and experience. You feel excited, stimulated, enriched. During this stage, you still feel close to everything familiar back home.
Step 2: The Distress Stage

A little later, differences create an impact. Everything you’re experiencing no longer feels new; in fact, it’s starting to get you down. You feel confused, isolated or inadequate and realise that your familiar support systems (e.g. family and friends) are not easily accessible.

Step 3: Re-integration Stage

During this stage, you start winging about your new home. You dislike the culture, the language, the food. You reject it as inferior. You may even develop some prejudices towards the new culture. You’re angry, frustrated and even feel hostile to those around you. You wonder why you made the decision to change. You start to idealise life “back home” and compare your current culture to what is familiar. Don’t worry. This is absolutely normal and a healthy reaction – it means you’re adjusting. You are reconnecting with what you value about yourself and your own culture.

Step 4: Autonomy Stage

This is the first stage in acceptance. Sometimes called the emergence stage when you start to come out of the ‘fog’ and finally begin to feel like yourself again. You start to accept the differences and feel like you can begin to live with them. You feel more confident and better able to cope with any problems that may arise based on your growing experience. You no longer feel isolated and instead you’re able to look at the world around you and appreciate where you are.

Step 5: Independence Stage

You are yourself again! You embrace the new culture and see everything in a new, yet realistic light. Things start to become enjoyable. You feel comfortable, confident, able to make decisions based on your own preferences and values. You no longer feel alone and isolated. You understand and appreciate both the differences and similarities of both your own and the new culture. You start to feel at home.

Adapted from "Orientated for Success" M. Barker 1990

FINALLY…

It is important to stress that culture shock is entirely normal, usually unavoidable and not a sign that you have made a mistake or that you won’t manage. In fact there are very positive aspects of culture shock. The experience can be a significant learning experience, making you more aware of aspects of your own culture as well as the new culture you have entered. It will give you valuable skills that will serve you in many ways now and in the future.

Expat advice on various countries can be found 
on this expert site: http://www.expatarrivals.com/

My other articles related to culture shock can be found here:

What Is Culture Shock?

The Stages of Adjusting To A New Culture

Before You Go: What To Do Before You Leave

Overcoming Culture Shock

The Classic 5-Stage Culture Shock Model

Rhinesmith’s 10 Stages of Culture Shock

Collective Culture Shock

Advice For  Expats Moving to the Arab World

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This entry was posted on Saturday, May 15th, 2010 at 9:14 am and is filed under culture shock & stuff, expat advice, General . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Responses to “ The Classic 5 Stage Culture Shock Model ”

  1. cna training says:

    My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

  2. Mara Torelli says:

    You are right on this.

  3. Enid says:

    Very accurate and validating! It is helpful to look back, as one can appreciate the full impact of the cumulative process. I recognized myself in every stage! We had moved from Mid-West Canada to Mid-West U.S.–which is quite a vast country to country change. Now that we are back in Canada, I call the US city that we moved to our second home–we embraced it, and we missed it….and now we are having adjustment issues re-integratng into our own familiar home city! Who knew?!?

  4. Mmm. Yes, a similar situation happened to me when I returned from living in Spain. At the time, I had no understanding of culture shock – it was never talked about. As you say: ‘who knew!’

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